Do you long for the days when you had to go through a travel agent – yes, a human one – to help you arrange your world travel plans, find the best airfare, book a hotel room and set an itinerary for the greatest adventure ever? I personally don’t. Today, you can do it all on your own using a smartphone and mobile travel apps; yes, all while sitting in your living room enjoying your favorite TV show.
Travel apps make my life easier
I am on the road quite a bit, for both business and pleasure. Within the last 12 months, I have been to Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and at least a dozen other cities in the US. And I owe it to the travel apps I keep in my pocket for helping me be more organized and my trips somewhat hassle-free. These apps provide information at my fingertips, literally, and help inform most travel decisions I make. These decisions range from booking the flight with the most suitable departure time to picking the best Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing.
In addition to standard apps such as Weather and Apple Wallet, I use several others for my travels. Some I use regularly, such as airline and hotel apps, and others less frequently, like SeatGuru. There are a few I honestly don’t think I could travel without, one of which is Google Maps.
Drumroll…here are my travel apps, in no particular order:
Smart Traveler: This app was developed by the US State Department for US travelers. Through this app, I subscribe to and receive travel advisory alerts for the countries of my choice. I also use it to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This automatically enrolls me with the US embassy in each country I am visiting.
GeoSure: This app is a recent addition to my collection, and I find it useful. It provides safety and security scores by city, and in some cases by neighborhood. The developers gather information from sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations and local authorities to compile their scores. I use the information for awareness and to get a sense of what to expect.
WhatsApp: This app allows me to stay connected with family and friends via phone calls and text messages at no cost when my phone is connected to Wi-Fi. For some reason, WhatsApp is not as popular in the US as in other parts of the world. Be aware that some countries may restrict phone calls using this app, such as the UAE.
Airline App: I have several airline apps and use them regularly. I use them to check prices, book flights, check-in, get boarding passes, select or change seat assignments, access mileage accounts, etc. The ones I keep installed at all times are American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines. I keep them because I have mileage accounts with each of these airlines. In addition, I have installed several others in the past to use for specific trips. This includes United, Southwest, Qatar Airways, ANA, Scoot, Thai Airways, Iberia, and Vueling. However, I removed them after my trips were complete.
momondo: This is a useful app when you’re looking for cheap flights and hotels. It searches multiple airlines as well as online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia, Orbitz, etc. Tip: My use of momondo has dwindled since I discovered Google Flights, which is more robust when I want to search for flights across multiple airlines and online travel sites. I love the calendar format to determine which dates offer the cheapest flights. Google Flights is not an app, it’s a website: google.com/flights. However, for easy access, I added a shortcut to my phone home screen.
SeatGuru: I must confess, I am always hunting for the best seat possible. This app helps me find the best seats available on a flight, and which ones to avoid. I use it when traveling on an airline for the first time or when I have never flown in the same aircraft configuration before.
FlightStatus: In general, I rely on airline apps for flight status. However, I found this app to be more accurate in some cases. As an example, when a flight starts to get delayed, this app may have more reliable information. This is especially true for airlines that share information about flight delays in a drip-drip fashion. Wink, wink, American Airlines. I have also used this app to check on arrival times when receiving family or friends at the airport.
Hotel Apps: Similar to airline apps, I have a handful of apps to help me determine where I should stay. They include Marriott, Hilton, Booking.com, Agoda, and Airbnb. I also use them to compare prices, book rooms, check in when available, and to review my hotel loyalty account information. Tip: If I am traveling to Southeast Asia and paying out of pocket, I’ve found Agoda to offer better deals on room rates.
Currency: This is one of the apps I don’t think I could travel overseas without. It helps me convert local prices to US dollars. And, decide on purchases when presented with multiple options.
Google Maps: If I had to choose only one app while traveling, Google Maps would be it. Enough said, right? This app offers more than city maps. I can check traffic and best routes, read reviews of places, save favorite locations to visit later, etc. Sorry, Waze fans. I have it and use it sporadically, but Google Maps trumps Waze in my book.
Maps.me: This app complements Google Maps for me, and I use it when I am not connected. You can download maps ahead of time and delete them later to save on storage space once you have completed your trip.
Uber: I have always had a love/hate relationship with Uber, but that’s for another blog post. Nevertheless, I have used Uber extensively while traveling. And sometimes you can’t beat the price; while in Kuala Lumpur, a three-mile trip cost less than a dollar! Yes, I know I could have walked. But for less than a dollar, no thanks, not in heat and humidity.
TripAdvisor: I use TripAdvisor extensively to read and write reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. TripAdvisor has a neat feature that lets me create and manage trips with the ability to add activities and attractions to each one. I also use it to compare hotel prices and ensure I am getting the best deal available. This is especially valuable if I am comparing the use of hotel points versus paying for my stay out of pocket. TripAdvisor has also become the platform where I provide reviews; I am a Level 5 Reviewer and among the top five percent of reviewers in Phoenix. Whatever that means!
Yelp: This app is similar to TripAdvisor. However, I find Yelp useful when searching for restaurants in the US and Europe. Recently I downloaded Zomato to use in countries where Yelp is not available, but I haven’t used it yet.
Viator: When I travel to a new destination, I sometimes prefer guided tours. This helps me get the lay of the land before venturing out on my own. Viator lets me explore tour packages, from daily trips to longer adventures. At a minimum, I read what others say in their reviews about attractions and tours. To be honest, I have not booked any tours directly with the app as of now. After I gauge prices and reviews, I book the same tour using points on credit card travel sites. Yes, I know, I am not getting the best value from my points doing this, but I just like to minimize my out-of-pocket cost.
PackPoint: This is an app I’ve started using recently. PackPoint helps me create a packing list based on the weather forecast at my destination given the trip dates and activities I will be engaged in, such as business meetings, swimming and/or hiking.
PriorityPass: I am a sucker for airport lounges. With this admission out of the way, this app helps me find lounges that are part of the worldwide PriorityPass network. What I love about this network, in addition to traditional lounges, it also includes MinuteSuites and restaurants at select US airport. The MinuteSuites offer a free one-hour mini suite for a nap or join a conference call. Generally, the PriorityPass membership is not free. However, I acquired mine through the AMEX Business Platinum card, which gives me free access to this network of lounges.
Photo editing apps: While on the go, I sometimes find it necessary to edit travel photos before posting them on Instagram or sharing them with family and friends. For this purpose, I have Lightroom CC and Photoshop Fix installed.
Travel Apps for specific countries
Have you ever had to get apps for a specific trip? Affirmative on my end. For instance, I downloaded the following three apps for a trip to China:
DiDi: This is the Chinese equivalent of Uber.
WeChat: This multifaceted app offers chat messaging as well as a mobile payment wallet. In the Chinese cash economy, the WeChat wallet adds convenience. However, I have not been able to link my US credit card to it yet. The other benefit of this app is that you get to send a message in English and the recipient will receive it in Mandarin or their choice of supported language.
MetroMan: This a guide for the metro system in multiple cities in China.
Installed, but haven’t used them yet
In addition to the apps listed above, I have the following apps installed but haven’t had a chance to use them yet: Hopper, Google Trips, Zomato, Sidekix, and Splitwise.
With all that said, I think we can all agree that the travel agent profession is headed towards extinction. These travel apps have helped us take control, stay connected, be informed and increase our efficiency. However, it’s my belief that there is still more room for improvement. There is a lot of waste in dealing with many apps, wouldn’t you agree? Ideally, I would love to have one app that combines multiple functions. At a minimum, this will reduce the number of accounts I have to manage.